We may not have snow in Florida, but there is no denying December’s tug on the heartstrings as Orlando transitions from summertime heat to ‘wintertime’ cosy, with all the sights, sounds and tastes associated with childhood memories of Christmas. But, with 11 countries represented in World Showcase, Epcot doesn’t stop there, and it can be difficult fitting it all in.
The Holidays Around the World entertainment programme runs through December 30 and, this year, there are several new offerings to enjoy along with long-standing favourites. We visited on a day when the sky looked suitably wintery (though the temperature was in the low 80sF!), so come along with us on a tour of storytelling, food and festivities.
The festival begins at the Fountain of Nations Stage, where popular American Music Machine’s a capella sounds turn from popular tunes to Christmas classics. JOYFUL! A Gospel Celebration of the Season also takes the stage several times daily, but save this for later and instead move on to…
Norway at 11.15am: The storyteller here is Sigrid, who shares the myth of the Santa-like gnome, Julenissen. Though it is said in Norway that there is no such thing as Julenissen, he appears on stage with Sigrid and proceeds to create all sorts of mischief. Kids especially enjoy his antics.
American Adventure at 11.45am is your next stop. Although there are four holiday experiences here, you’re only going to see two of them now, then return for the other two later. Start with the beloved group Voices of Liberty dressed in Dickens-style costumes, harmonising a capella style with a selection of Christmas carols. Then, the story of Kwanzaa starts at 12pm, sharing the modern celebration of African-Americans’ unique cultural traditions. You’ll have time to grab lunch at the new American Holiday Table kiosk here (try the slow roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberries; it’s large).
Arrive at the France pavilion by 12.30pm for “the good spirit of the season,” Pére Noël, who shares a letter he has received from a child and explains the French traditions surrounding Christmas, from “watch night” and setting out the crèche to filling the children’s shoes with goodies.
Head right next door for the United Kingdom at 1.05pm. You’ll know the story of Father Christmas well, but this is your chance to see him as he performs the 700-year-old tradition of tolling the devil’s knell (well, part of it anyway), sings Christmas carols and talks about the origins of UK holiday customs.
Move on to Canada for 1.20pm. The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs here share sounds of Christmas from the Great White North in a rousing mini-concert. You won’t have much time afterwards, but check out some of the fun merchandise, then grab a Pecan Maple Bark to give you the energy to hot-foot it back to…
American Adventure for 1.45pm. Start with a retelling of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and the miracle of the lamp, then queue up to meet Santa and Mrs Claus to pass on your Christmas wish list and have a photo taken. Take a break if you need it, or pick up some lunch if you haven’t had it yet.
Stroll over to Germany by 2.40pm, where Helga talks about the origins of the Christmas tree and the Nutcracker. This pavilion is exceptionally festive, with a small chalet decked out in best Bavarian style. A bit of yodeling goes on here, too, so check back if you’re passing by in the evening.
Changing the tone entirely, Morocco is next at 3.25pm, this time recounting how important celebrations are throughout the year. Many of them focus on food, as they do around the world, and as luck would have it there is a new kiosk, Alpine Haus, between Morocco and France (yes, we know it should be near Germany or Italy, but nobody asked us), with superb holiday foods and a luscious Chocolate Apple Shake with Winter Spice Tea and Honey Liqueur (non-alcoholic version also available). With all the to-ing and fro-ing you’ve been doing, a rest is in order, and you’ll have time for it before you make the trek to…
Italy by 4.25pm. Here, La Befana, the old witch who delivers gifts to children on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6) enchants listeners. Like Santa Claus, she comes down the chimney with gifts for the good children and coal for the naughty ones, but unlike Santa she rides a broomstick and her story focuses on the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
Move on toChina for the 4.45pm Chinese Lion Dancer. The holiday celebrated here is Chinese New Year, a festival of happiness and good fortune. It’s colourful, it’s humourous and it’s only two pavilions away from your next storytelling experience.
But first you have another significant break, allowing time to watch the Candlelight Processional from outside the theatre (you’ll need to queue up well in advance for this, even with the Dining Package), or take in some of the attractions and shopping in World Showcase. This is also a good time for dinner if you’re ready, with some holiday specials at the Holiday Eats & Treats, Feast of the Three Kings, or Seasonal Southern Delights kiosks in Showcase Plaza.
Mexico’s 6pm show is next, and if you have children with you they’ll want to be part of this interactive musical celebration, shaking maracas and taking a few whacks at the piñata. Each child receives a sweet treat at the end, but your photos of them are the real prize here.
Your final pavilion is Japan at 6.45pm, where the Daruma Doll seller tells the tale of the Japanese New Year tradition involving making a wish as you paint a pupil on the left eye of a Daruma doll. The concepts of hope, patience and persistence are the focus, and we think they pair well with one of the seasonal speciality drinks you’ll find at many of the pavilions’ beverage kiosks.
Finally, you must not miss the spectacularly uplifting Candlelight Processional, and if you queue up after Japan you should be seated for the 8.15pm show, at the American Gardens Theater. With a special celebrity narrator, a large orchestra and a brilliant choir, this is one of Orlando’s most beloved Christmas shows, telling the story of Christ’s birth through songs of the season.
You will be tired after this convoluted route march, but you will come away from it inspired and ready for the most festive time of the year. Happy Christmas to you all, and we wish you peace and prosperity in the New Year!
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